Asia Society

Hishikawa Moronobu: First Master of Ukiyo-e

A Visit to the Yoshiwara
Hishikawa Moronobu (1630/31?–1694)
Proprietor of a House of Assignation; Waiting Room for Retainers; The Proprietor in Black Cloak; Evening Scenes; from A Visit to the Yoshiwara
Late 1680s
Handscroll; ink, color, and gold on paper
54.1 x 1,761.4 cm
John C. Weber Collection

This luxurious handscroll, which unfolds in fifteen self-contained episodes, is the longest and most complete of Hishikawa Moronobu’s paintings of the Yoshiwara, Edo’s fabled pleasure quarter.

At the beginning of the scroll, the clients, predominantly of samurai rank, arrive on the main thoroughfare leading to the quarter. In the following scenes prostitutes are displayed behind latticed windows, and high-ranking courtesans promenade along the main avenues to houses of assignation. Names of places and events are all inscribed in gold ink to help guide the viewer through the elaborate rituals and mysteries of the exotic floating world.

The latter part of the scroll takes us inside the houses of assignation, where high-ranking courtesans met their clients, and behind the scenes into the kitchens, banquet halls, and bedrooms. The scroll concludes the next morning, as the clients settle up their “sleeping” charges.

Photo: © John Bigelow Taylor